Interview: Dolph Lundgren Talks ‘Altitude’ And Going From M.I.T. To Blockbuster Actor
Action film icon Dolph Lundgren discusses how the arts were his true calling.
With his latest action thriller “Altitude” releasing April 14th and a newly acquired role in Aquaman, Dolph Lundgren took the time to chat with us about his impressive career. While many know him for his towering roles in big name films, Dolph Lundgren is so much more. Starting with a discussion on “Altitude,” he additionally gave us details about his time at M.I.T., mastering Karate, and how he chose acting among he many other talents. Listen to the full audio above or read highlights of the interview below.
Starting things off with his latest film “Altitude,” I wanted to know more about his role in the film and what piqued his interest about his character.
“Well I kinda liked it because it’s not a huge action piece…throw kicks, shoot people, and run around driving vehicles, it has a thriller aspect. And I like the fact that my character is a bit funny in kind of a devious way and kind of full of himself a little bit and cocky. There were some interesting qualities in there that it’s always fun to play with on screen.”
Since “Altitude” takes place on an airplane and Dolph Lundgren stands tall at 6’5″ things could get claustrophobic for people so large. From his perspective, I wanted to know what it was like to work in those conditions, if it felt cramped, and if he perhaps experienced some claustrophobic moments.
“It’s just messy you know? I was in the pilot’s seat for a lot of it and my knees get stuck and there’s a fight in there and you bump your head on this, twist your knee on something else. I’ll tell you something, I don’t want to get in a fight in an airplane cockpit (laughs). Give me the ring any day.”
After he mentioned “the ring,” I became curious about his past martial arts studies and his academic triumphs including a Master’s degree in chemistry. With so many paths to choose from,
what made Dolph Lundgren choose acting?
“(laughs) That’s what my dad said, ‘What’s wrong with you boy’? What happened is he was an engineer, my other brother was an engineer, my older brother was an engineer, so I wanted to please my dad and get the scholarship to M.I.T. and I got it but my heart was really in the arts even though I did sports as well. But I was a musician when I was younger and I painted a lot and did a lot of drawing and I think that when I discovered acting, it was kind of by chance in New York. It was something I knew I wanted to do even though I wasn’t good at it, I was an amateur, but it felt good to be emotional and express that. My dad and I also had a tough relationship when I was younger so I could use some of that and express some of that and over the years it’s just proven to be more satisfying than the other things I was good at.”
Being a huge fan of Dolph Lundgren myself, I caught the reference made in “The Expendables” by Sylvester Stallone. In the film Stallone references Lundgren’s character as a genius which has quite a bit of truth to it. It was a humorous moment in the film given Dolph Lundgren’s stature makes him look more like a jock than a scholar and I wanted to hear Dolph’s thoughts on the reference.
“I’m a little geek? Yeah, I agree. I think that Sly [Stallone] did say (jokingly mocks Sylvester Stallone’s line from Expendables). Yeah I did somehow manage to become this incredible contrast between a big guy with a good physique and a fighter and somebody who was a chemical engineer. I don’t know how I did that but I gues somebody had to do it and it’s still weird to me and to the rest of the world I guess as well. The only good thing is that I’m getting older now and I get a little more mileage out of that and I can do other things. Not just personally but maybe eventually I can use that a little more than I have in the past you know?”
While mostly a movie star, Dolph Lundgren more recently made his way to television in the hit CW series “Arrow.” Given how TV and film have become similar over the years, I asked Dolph about his perspective when working in both.
“TV now is of course very close to feature film in the way they shoot it and light it. The only thing is, there’s more dialogue and you have to learn it quicker because you get the script a few days before you’re going to go and then you gotta memorize 5 or 6 pages of dialogue or more and try to make it work, so that’s tough. But then on the other hand you’re playing the same character over a whole season or in multiple seasons and that’s fun. But there’s sometimes you put a lot of work into your character and then it’s gone, in 90 minutes it’s over, and then you never do it again unless you do sequels. In television you can have fun with that guy and you can find new aspects of the same person over the season. I really enjoy that.”
Given that Dolph found so much value in exploring his roles and refining them, I was curious as to how he developed his character in “Altitude.” Was there any personal traits that he incorporated into the character?
“No, I think it was more trying to find a cocky, self assured side of myself, but I usually don’t act like that. But this is like the other side, the guy who thinks he knows it all and looking down on other people and he’s a smart ass. It’s kind of fun to step out of your regular costume and be somebody else. And to be able to do that for a full day, or weeks, or months…it’s fun. That’s part of what’s fun about acting.”
We’ve seen quite a few variations of The Punisher with Dolph being the original actor to play Frank Castle. Given his role back in 1989 and the various changes we’ve seen the character go through over the years, I wanted to know his thoughts on The Punisher films and recent Netflix character.
“I hate to tell you this but I haven’t seen the other movies. Not that I don’t like them but I don’t watch a lot of movies and I never caught them but I don’t know how it’s evolved. But I heard the last one was pretty good they said. It’s a dark character and I think it was something that was a bit ahead of its time in that respect. It was kind of like the modern Batman character a little bit. Vengeful but with a dark edge. He didn’t try to be a good guy. I enjoyed doing it and I’m sure some of these other movies are quite good and people are doing a good job. Yeah, I’ll have to catch up and see them one day when I have some time off.”
Since his iconic role in “Rocky IV” as Ivan Drago, Dolph Lundgren has proven himself to be a very menacing villain. But while he’s often played the villain, his personality is far different from the characters we see him play. Between a role like He-Man playing the hero or one of his many villainous or antihero roles, I was curious about what he preferred to play.
“They’re both interesting. The villain is easier in one way because you just come up with a couple of fun mannerisms and you find some kind of emotional trigger. Something that was done to you by somebody. It doesn’t have to be in the script. Something you find that ticks you off so you can justify to yourself why you are the villain and why you’re doing these bad things. The hero…you have to play in the moment and you’re reacting a lot to things. You have to be very sharp on set in a different way because you’re taking things in and the audience takes it in through your eyes so that’s a different challenge. And it’s quite difficult actually too. I look forward to doing both.”
As we recently discovered with his role in “Aquaman,” Dolph Lundgren has quite a bit on his plate. In addition to that role which he kept quiet about during the interview, he’s also got a few more projects in the works in front of and behind the camera.
“Yeah I got a couple things. I got a movie I’m probably going to do in London. This thriller, it’s a small movie, [an] independent picture I put together with a friend of mine. We’re producing, I’m directing. And I have a couple of big movies I’m planning. I haven’t signed any of them, but they’re big studio pictures. I’m trying to do both. And there’s this project in Sweden I want to do next year in the summer which is a World War I romantic thriller that I’m just directing, I’m not in it. That should be a lot of fun, it will happen in a year or so. I have a few things to look forward to, sure.”
I was surprised at what a genuinely nice person Dolph Lundgren was. Despite having accomplished so much, he seemed like a very humble guy who was very pleasant throughout the interview. Hopefully we will get the chance to reconnect with him in the future as he said as well.
“Thanks my friend and it was nice to talk to you and hopefully we can talk on my next picture.”